Marathon Runner Sinead Diver on the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%
Irish-born, Australian-based runner Sinead Diver hasn't even been running for a decade, but she's already a bonafide legend.
Just two years on from her competitive debut, she won the Australian Half Marathon Championship and crossed the finish line in the 2014 Melbourne Marathon as the second-placed woman with a time of 2:34:15.
Since then, Diver has won the 2018 Melbourne Marathon, and finished seventh in this year's London Marathon with a time of 2:24.11 – a personal best.
What was your motivation to start running?
I think when I came to Australia first in 2002 I used to run every now and then just for fitness, but very sporadically. Like it was, you know, whenever the notion hit me I'd kinda go out and go for a run. So no more than once or twice a week, and then I'd go for long periods without running at all. But really, I think after my first son, Eddie, was born, I wanted to get fit again. I felt more motivated and my sister was actually doing the Corporate Cup; it's this event around the Tan, and they had a team in that event and one person dropped out so they needed another runner. So she just asked me to fill in, and through that I got to meet a few more people that were into running and they thought that I was pretty good for someone who hadn't done any proper training. So they hooked me up with a recreational running group, and I kind of got into running from there.
Running the 3.8 kilometres around the Tan, it's a little bit different to marathon running. Did you always have long distances in mind? Where did that next step come from?
Well, I guess I knew I wasn't a sprinter, definitely not, I never really got into athletics young, so I never really went through the starting at the shorter distances. So I guess my starting point was the 3.8km around The Tan, which is considered middle distance. And then really when I started racing it was fun runs and generally fun runs start at around 10km. And I was better at 10km than I was at 5km. So I felt as I went along that the longer I went, the better I got. It took a while to notice that I guess, but 10km was really my starting point and then when I eventually moved to the half marathon in 2012 and I won the national title that year I thought, 'Okay, I'm definitely better the longer I go'. So it made sense for me to move to a marathon.
In terms of preparing your body and mind for a marathon, what's your general process?
Generally it's a 12-week block that you have to prepare for a marathon. That often depends on your starting point; I did a 12-week block for London, but I was already half marathon fit when I started. So that kind of dictates your progress for that 12 weeks.
My training structure doesn't change for the marathon as to any other race, but the sessions get a bit longer, and we do more marathon-specific sessions. So on a Tuesday I have my speed session, on a Thursday have my tempo, and then Saturdays hills and Sundays the long one. But for marathon training my tempo runs just get a lot longer. So generally we'd do 12km, but in this, for a marathon block, we do 20km in effort. And in the earlier weeks that would look something like 6 by 3km, and then the following week we'd move to 4 by 5km. And then 3 by 10km and so on. So just get that little bit longer each week.
And then my Sunday long ones would normally have a pick up at the end, or I'd do a very hilly session to get a bit stronger for the marathon.
In terms of running the London Marathon, you were obviously very fit and strong-willed to achieve what you did. We'd love to hear about your experience during the race. Did it play out as you'd planned?
Well, not at all because I had no intention of leading. The London Marathon had organised a few pace groups, but there was [something] like a 2:16 pace group, a 2:19, and then there was this massive jump up to 2:26. And I knew that I sat around the 2:23, 2:24 mark so there was no pace group for that, but there were a couple of other girls – the two American girls, Emily and Molly, and then two Japanese girls – who wanted to run around 2:22. I thought, 'Okay, I could sit at the back of that pack'. And I knew that the first half of the marathon, of the race in London, is faster than the second. Especially given the conditions on the day, because we, for the second half of the race, had a really strong headwind, whereas the first half was pretty good. So I thought, 'Okay, I'll go out at 2:22 pace and then it doesn't really matter if I slow a little in the second half'.
So I took off at that pace and nobody came with me. And everyone's out behind me, so all of a sudden I was leading... I was mortified: 'Oh gosh this is terrible!' But then I just kept waiting for them to catch up to me and they didn't until around 5km, or just before it, and then I relaxed. I was like, 'Oh this is great, I'll be in a group now'. But then the Africans lost a surge, so they would go really really quick and then really really slow, and I really don't like that at all; that side of racing, you can really burn out really quickly. So I decided to just go to the front again and just run my own race. But I didn't expect I'd be at the front for 23km.
It was very bizarre, a very strange race. But I'm glad I went with my own pace and did my own thing because otherwise I think the first half would have been too slow and that it would have been too hard to pick it up that much to get a good time in the second. I did the right thing.
Let's talk about what was on your feet. From an athlete perspective, what about Nike's ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% made you feel comfortable? How did that shoe help you to perform?
It's funny actually, because I didn't get a pair of the shoes until the Saturday evening before the race. And normally I would never ever wear a new pair of shoes… so I was really nervous about wearing them. And I wasn't sure – I actually didn't decide until the morning of. I had one of the NEXT%s on one foot and then my old 4%s on the other foot and I was just walking around – this is an hour before the race – trying to decide what to do. But as soon as I put them on, I really really liked them. I thought they felt very similar to the original 4%s… so I kinda had confidence that they'd be very similar.
I'm so glad that I did actually go with them, because my legs have pulled up really well since the race, and I haven't got any blisters, and generally before I started wearing Nike 4%s and NEXT%s, my toenails would all fall off after a marathon and that hasn't happened at all since I started wearing the Nike shoes. I really love them, and I'm really comfortable in them. They're definitely really good for recovery afterwards.
And another thing that kind of sealed the deal for me was, in London on the morning of, we weren't sure if it was going to rain or not. And it was quite blustery and looked like it could rain, and I know that the traction on the bottom of the NEXT%s is better than the 4%s, so I was like, 'Yeah, I'm definitely definitely going to wear them'.
I'm glad I did.
What else do you look for in a shoe? Obviously comfort is a really important component for a marathon runner, but are there any other considerations that you look for in a racing shoe?
Comfort, and I like when they're nice and light. Definitely responsive as well. I don't want to feel like I'm sinking into the shoe. As soon as I put the NEXT%s on I was like, ‘Yeah, these feel really great.’ And the one thing I did prefer about these ones as well, they felt a little more stable than the previous version. Those kinds of things I look for in a shoe and [that] they fit your foot nice and snugly, I think, as well.
Training shoe versus racing shoe: Are there differences in what you look for? Or is it the same?
I think it depends on the session, really. For my speed sessions I actually really like the Nike Elites. And then for my thresholds I like to wear something similar to race day, just because that's the most similar session to a marathon. And then for all my other ones, I love the Turbos for the easy runs and the Zoom Flys for my long ones. I think it's good to mix up your shoes, because I find that if I'm getting a little niggle, if I overwear one shoe, if I switch to another it seems to settle it. I think it's a good idea to mix up your shoes depending on sessions.
And then, I love for race day, I love having that feel of having a new pair of shoes. You put them on and you think, 'Yep'.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Featured Image Credit: Provided by Nike.